I first met Sheena Norquay shortly after I started working with Aurifil, a mere 4 years into my time in this industry. Up until that time, I’d never seen anything quite like her work and was immediately taken with her artistry, her vision, and her undeniable quilting genius. She is adventurous in her work, always up for trying something new, while remaining meticulous and measured in her experimentation. Every time she creates a new piece, she sends along thoughts on that piece… what she tried and why, which threads were used, and what she thought about the process. It is both fascinating and breath-taking and I’m excited to share some of that with you over the next few days.
In the last year, Sheena has released 3 new collections… 2 last Fall and one just this past Spring. Each collection has its own voice, its own purpose, and its own color palette. Each comes with a variety of stunning projects, designed to showcase the thread, whether 50wt, 80wt, or floss, and how it can be the star of the show rather than the complementary accessory.
So today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Sheena, to share our interview with her — giving us all a peek at her process and some insight into her inspiration — AND also to her collections — The Beach Collection, Scottish Highlands, and The Seabird Collection. Make sure to check back in every day this week to learn a little more about each collection and to see some of Sheena’s gorgeous work!
THREAD COLLECTION DETAILS
The Beach Collection
LARGE – 100% Aurifil Cotton, 12 Large Spools, 50wt (1422yds/spool)
2524 – 2564 – 4150 – 1248 – 2311 – 2375
2610 – 2312 – 2340 – 2615 – 2805 – 2326
Scottish Highlands, 50wt
SMALL – 100% Aurifil Cotton, 10 Small Spools, 220yds/spool
2309 – 2612 – 2566 – 6735 – 2885
1246 – 2775 – 2155 – 2975 – 1147
Scottish Highlands, Aurifloss
SMALL – 100% Aurifil Cotton, 10 Small Spools, 18yds/spool
2309 – 2612 – 2566 – 6735 – 2885
1246 – 2775 – 2155 – 2975 – 1147
The Seabird Collection
SMALL – 100% Aurifil Cotton, 10 Small Spools, 80wt (300yds/spool)
2692 – 2021 – 2630 – 2625 – 2615
2370 – 2324 – 2255 – 1135 – 2775
To view this info on our website, please click on the images above. For purchasing, please contact your local Aurifil Dealer.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I am from the Orkney Islands which lie to the north of Scotland, but now live in Inverness, the capital city of the Highlands, most of the time. I used to be a Primary School teacher but am now a freelance quilting teacher. I teach and exhibit nationally and internationally and have won many awards for my work.
What first drew you to to the world of textiles?
I have been exposed to textiles since I was a child. My mother knitted and sewed all our clothes. One grandmother knitted Fair Isle garments and the other grandmother did embroidery, painting and various fabric crafts. I was also taught how to knit and sew at school but my favourite activity, which I did at home, was to make clothes for my dolls from fabric scraps. This developed into making my own clothes when I was in my early teens.
I loved fabrics and threads from an early age and was introduced to more exotic textiles when one of my uncles, who went to sea, brought back an embroidered skirt and top which he bought in India. Sadly, the garments did not fit, but I still have them in my collection, along with embroidery by my grandmother and by many unknown women whose work I have bought at antique fairs and charity shops.
My introduction to patchwork happened while I was doing my B.Ed degree. One of the girls in my2-dimensionall design course was working on a hexagon bedspread so I decided to have a go and make a cushion. Laura Ashley scrapbags were on sale then in the 1970’s so I used them as well as my own scraps. The cushion grew into a bedspread and I remember being so proud of making something so large!
In 1979 I saw my first actual quilts at an exhibition in Inverness Museum and Art Gallery of old American quilts and a smaller exhibition of “modern” quilts by an American quilter called Linda Schaepper. That was the beginning of my entry into the world of quilting and I have been so lucky to have experienced the growth in its popularity and to have met so many wonderful people and to have travelled to so many places.
Who or what has been your greatest creative inspiration?
Apart from my late mother and grandmothers, the late May Miller ( friend of Kathleen Whyte, well known embroiderer and head of the Embroidery Department at the Glasgow School of Art at that time) was the person to show me the creative potential of threads and fabric and she taught me to see the world with creative eyes during the 2 years of my 2 dimensional design course.
In the 1980’s when I joined the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles I was inspired by Deirdre Amsden’s use of fabrics and colour. Also, the Guild had slides of American quilts for hire and I was inspired by how Michael James used colour and pattern, and how Nancy Halpern used quilting to create movement and atmosphere.
From where do you draw inspiration for your artwork?
Most of my inspiration comes from looking closely at nature. I am particularly inspired by Orkney skies, its magical light and its seascapes. I also like looking at patterns on sandy beaches and lines on rocks. I find bird shapes very elegant and enjoy doodling and decorating surfaces with stitching, hand and machine.
Can you tell us a bit about your process — how you determine the subject of a new piece and how you work through from start to finish?
I usually begin by taking lots of photos of something that inspires me. This could be subjects already mentioned, group challenges or themes for quilt shows. This is followed by thumbnail sketches of possible compositions. I then scale one of these up to a full size drawing (sometimes using an overhead projector) and think about the techniques I am going to use.
The next step is to go through my fabrics selecting the ones that I think are suitable, followed by a final selection. The rejects are put back on the shelves. For a pieced landscape or seascape, for instance, I make templates, pin them on the reverse sides of the fabrics, cut leaving about quarter of an inch and piece. Details are appliqued on to the background before quilting. If it is a wholecloth quilt, I trace the drawing on to the fabric ready for quilting. Threads are selected, usually Aurifil no. 50 cotton, and then the free motion quilting begins.
I always have a few projects on the go at the same time. Most of the machine work is done in the mornings or afternoons, whereas hand stitching is done in the evenings while watching TV or on long train journeys!
When did you first discover Aurifil threads and what do you love most about them?
I first started buying Aurifil no. 50 cotton threads from Barnyarns in England when Madeira tanne cotton no. 50 was no longer available, sometime in the early 2000’s. I love Aurifil threads because they are of such high quality and go through the machine so smoothly. I also like hand quilting and embroidering with cotton no 28, 12 and Aurifloss. Recently, I started using wool acrylic on various tweeds like Harris tweed, both for embroidering by hand and machine. I am very lucky to be given threads by Aurifil and am honoured to have been asked to compose several thread collections.
How big of a role do the threads play in your artwork?
I would say the threads play the main role now, especially when stitching wholecloths. Because I have always been drawn to drawing rather than painting, I think this is why I enjoy quilting so much. I would also say that when I am asked to compose a collection for Aurifil, I select thread colours before the fabrics and it is an interesting challenge to do sample pieces using only 10 or 12 colours. In the past, I have tended to select fabrics first and then threads but of course it depends what you are making, whether it be something pieced, appliqued or a wholecloth.
I also enjoyed the challenge set by Alex when he gave me my first spool of Aurifloss to try. This has opened up a whole new way of working with threads and blending the colours to create new colours, whether it be in an ordered, mathematical way when creating gradations of colour in 1, 2,3,4 or 5 steps, or in a more intuitive, painterly way when embroidering, say an animal or landscape. For instance, I might add one strand of a dark colour to 3 strands of another colour or colours to darken something like the edge of a tree trunk just a little bit, whereas I might use 3 strands of the dark colour and one strand of another colour if I wanted it much darker.
So, at the design stage, as well as thinking about thread colours, I also think about what type of Aurifil threads I am going to use for the various hand and machine techniques.
What is up next for you? Where can we find you this year?
I will be helping on the Aurifil stand at The Festival of Quilts in August. After that I have an exhibition with Gillian Travis and Hilary Gooding at the Cowslip Workshops in Cornwall in the south of England followed by teaching at various places. Later in the year I will be teaching at the Quilt Symposium in New Zealand and finally I hope to do some writing.
Sheena Norquay was born on the Orkney Islands, just off the Northern tip of Scotland. Though she began sewing as a child, it wasn’t until attending University in Aberdeen to gain a B.Ed degree that she truly dove into the world of sewing, quilting, and textiles. The degree included 2-dimensional design in textiles which inspired her interest in exploring the artistic potential of threads and fabrics.
Having been a Primary School teacher in Inverness for 30 years, Sheena is now a freelance quilting teacher and teaches workshops locally, all over the UK, and sometimes abroad. She also writes articles for magazines and her quilts have been featured in several books.
Sheena’s work has been exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally since 1981 and she has won many awards in competitive quilt shows. She sells her work, cards and postcards of her work, and also accept commissions.